The curvy, reflective sculpture Cloud Gate (aka “The Bean”) has become Chicago’s most recognizable icon since it was installed in 2006–largely thanks to its limitless Instagram appeal. But that doesn’t mean its creator, Anish Kapoor, ignores how it’s being photographed. Because Kapoor has filed a federal lawsuit against the National Rifle Association, alleging that the organization violated his copyright by using an image of Cloud Gate in a 2017 ad titled “The Clenched Fist of Truth.” (See it for yourself 17 seconds into the video below.)
According to the Chicago Tribune, Kapoor said that his work had been “appropriated by the NRA to perpetuate its hateful ideology.” He’s asking that the image is removed from the NRA’s video, and that he’s awarded damages.
Indeed, Kapoor is not the only person to notice the appropriation of modernist forms in “The Clenched Fist of Truth.” We ran a story last year deconstructing how the NRA was using a strategy of framing modernist design–built for public enjoyment–as symbolic of the progressive values embodied by cities.
Kapoor is historically quite protective of his works–in 2016, he secured exclusive use of the world’s “blackest black” in his sculptures. The lawsuit may signal a trend of sculptors and architects challenging appropriation of their work. Thirty years after Arturo Di Modica installed his sculpture Charging Bull–a symbol of optimism for a strong economy–on Wall Street, he threatened a lawsuit after Kristen Visbal’s Fearless Girl statue was placed in front of the bull by global investment firm State Street Global Advisors last year. The tiny Fearless Girl faced the muscular bull in inspiring, feministic defiance to promote gender equality in our economic system. It’s a powerful juxtaposition, but Charging Bull was never intended to depict violence or the patriarchy. It was meant to depict a better life for everyone, according to Di Modica, through a perhaps too-optimistic view of capitalism. “She’s there attacking the bull,” Di Modica said at the time. In a sense, she was. And in a sense, that was entirely the point.
The city eventually agreed to move Fearless Girl, which had been installed on an extended, temporary permit. But the use of Kapoor’s copyrighted sculpture in a politically charged advertisement seems like a much different copyright claim than merely placing one sculpture near another. Also, with respect to the NRA leveraging my hometown of Chicago for its arguments: If guns solved gun violence, Chicago would be one of the safest cities in the U.S. rather than one of the least.